Parenting Resources

Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers Self Control


1. Be trustworthy. Before children can master self-control, they must first learn to trust their parents.  Trust is established when the parent provides stability, safety, and emotional support for the child and meets the child’s physical and emotional needs appropriately and promptly.  (See newsletters on Sensitive or Responsive Parenting  at


2. Set Limits.  By 15 – 18 months of age, parents can begin to set limits on their toddler’s behavior.  Children who learn to accept these limits are developing self-control.


3. Give reminders. Remind children of the rules so they can succeed.


4. Teach good habitsParents can also begin instilling good habits by showing toddlers how to put toys away, how to brush their teeth, put napkins on the table, and put their dirty clothes and diapers in the appropriate containers.  Learning good habits actually helps the child develop self-control – and can help the parent, too.


5. Use Time OutOne of the best teaching tools to help children develop self-control is the use of time-out.  Although some psychologists today have told parents to disregard this teaching tool, fearing the child will feel abandoned or unable to express emotions, time out is the single and most effective teaching tool in the parental tool kit for teaching self-control.

Time out teaches a child to obey his parents and allows the child to sit quietly while contemplating his actions.  By age two years, the child can be allowed to return to previous activities when she is ready to control her behavior.  Thus, the child is permitted to decide when she is able to stop the inappropriate behavior and begin acting properly.  This internal struggle is crucial to the development of self-control.


6. Acknowledge emotionsParents can still acknowledge a child’s emotions and allow the child to discuss those emotions while still incorporating the teaching tool of time out.  See the Time  Out handout at


For more information on teaching children self-control: